Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" - Major Themes and what has become reality today

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 27 Pages

English - Literature, Works


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2.1 Community, Identity and Stability in Contrast to Individual Freedom
2.2 Technology Used to Control Society
2.3 The Dangers of Genetic Engineering
2.4 The Misuse of Psychological Conditioning
2.5 Promiscuity to Achieve Happiness
2.6 The Extreme Pursuit of Happiness through Drugs and Mindless Consumption
2.7 The Destruction of the Institution “Family”
2.8 The Ingenious Caste System in Brave New World
2.9 The Dangers of an All Powerful, Totalitarian State
2.10 The Incompatibility of Happiness and Truth

3. What are the Costs and Benefits of a Society Like the One in the Novel?

4. How can we Prevent our Society from Becoming a Brave New World ?

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Being a utopian novel, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World describes the future, including events that must have seemed fantastic and even unrealistic to most of Huxley’s contemporaries. Today, however, most of those things no longer seem so fantastic and some of them have become reality – at least to a certain extent. Aldous Huxley himself said that “the theme of Brave New World is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals” (written in the preface of Brave New World). This paper is going to focus on several different, and in my opinion important, themes of the novel and it will also take a look at how many of the novels “visions” have become reality today.

The first theme that is going to be discussed is the contrast between the World State’s motto “Community, Identity and Stability” and individual freedom. After that, the paper will focus on technology used to control the society in Brave New World and on the dangers of genetical engineering. The misuse of psychological conditioning, promiscuity used to ensure happiness and the extreme pursuit of happiness trough drugs and mindless consumption are also important themes that will be looked at. Afterwards, I will discuss the destruction of the family, the ingenious caste system of Brave New World, the dangers of an all powerful, totalitarian state and, finally, the incompatibility of happiness and truth.

After looking at each theme more closely, I will give an account of how much of a certain theme has become reality today and I will conclude the essay with the question “What are the costs of a society like in Brave New World and how can we prevent things like in the novel from becoming reality in our society today?”

2.1 Community, Identity and Stability in Contrast to Individual Freedom

The motto of the World State in Brave New World is “community, identity and stability” and most of the things done by the government revolve around those three terms. Community is seen as a result of identity and stability and it is also achieved through a “religion” that encourages people to achieve solidarity through sexual orgies. Community is also accomplished by organizing the life of the citizens in such a perfect way that a person is almost never alone and has to conform to the masses.

Identity in the novel is mostly a result of genetic engineering. The state uses hypnopaedia and behaviorism to condition its citizens and to give them an identity that is desirable – at least to the state. The society in the novel is divided into five classes and into hereditary social groups and the state also influences the identity of its citizens by teaching them conformity. Whoever feels different in Brave New World (like Bernard Marx or John, the savage) is almost immediately made to feel like an outcast and strongly criticized by other people. You can say that the state’s motto is completely incompatible with individual freedom. There is no room for individual thinking or freedom in the society, nobody can ever be alone and, since people only do what they are conditioned to do, they do not even think about individual freedom – in fact, they hardly think on their own at all.

The entire society in the novel is organized to ensure stability. It is divided into a caste system and the government tries by all means to keep its people happy. Also, the cloning system assures stability because genetically identical “individuals” are less likely to come into conflict with each other or the system. A quote of the Director shows that cloning and stability are closely related: “Bokanovsky’s Process is one of the major instruments of social stability”.[1] Stability in the novel means minimizing risk, conflict and most of all change. The World Controllers try desperately to avoid any kind of change because they believe that change undermines stability. Therefore, even though they make “progress” one of the key features of the World State, in reality they stick to the technology they already use and try to prevent progress in scientific research.

How it is today

The state motto of “community, identity and stability” has only become reality to a certain extent. In today’s society, individualism is still very common. However, like in the novel, the government, at least in the Western hemisphere, tries to force its people into certain kinds of communities, for example schools. But we are still far from conditions like in the novel. Additionally, the point that identity is influenced trough genetic engineering is becoming relevant today, too. I will go into this in more detail later when I take a look at the theme of genetic engineering. Stability is also a term that is important today – in almost all countries. Every leader (or leading party) wants stability and tries to achieve it through different measures. Compared to Brave New World, it is interesting to see that most of the states today which want to achieve stability and have control over their citizens, try to intimidate them rather than trying to keep them happy at all costs. And even though there is no traditional class system anymore today, most of the societies are still divided into classes, although some people deny this.

2.2 Technology Used to Control Society

In Brave New World, only sciences that affect human individuals directly are important. Huxley does not write about sciences such as nuclear energy, even though he regrets that in his later work Brave New World Revisited. He writes about biology, physiology, chemistry and psychology. The World State uses all these sciences to create stability, identity and community. They use biology and physiology for genetic engineering and cloning and they use chemistry for producing Soma, the wonder drug. In addition, they use psychology for hypnopaedia and behaviorism to condition people.

The controllers use all these sciences but they are not open for progress, because change means a menace to stability for them. New scientific discoveries are kept secret and the people who worked on them are controlled very closely. There is a difference between science and technology in Brave New World that one has to keep in mind. What the World State uses and promotes is not science. It is technology that has proven productive and the state does not increase scientific research but wants to maintain the present conditions since they can not control what scientific research might discover.

How it is today

Today, all the sciences are much more advanced then during Huxley’s time. They affect human life in a lot of ways, but they do not affect it quite as negatively as predicted by Huxley. The cloning industry is advancing at a tremendous speed and the chemical industry is producing so many drugs that it is almost impossible to keep track. Also, psychology has become a science that is able to deal with many psychological problems that humans experience and treat almost all mental diseases. So, at the bottom line you can say that sciences are affecting human individuals in many ways today, but unlike in the novel, scientists today are mostly using them to help people and to cure illnesses – except when they are used for chemical and biological weapons.

But it is important to keep in mind that the sciences are so advanced that people could easily use them to control a society – just like in Brave New World. In my opinion, it is very important that certain independent experts (not only the government) control the sciences and assess realistically the consequences of any given scientific invention. It is not surprising that the cloning of the sheep “Dolly” in Britain has caused an uproar among scientists as well as people with ethical concerns. Even though the sciences are not yet used by the state to manipulate and control people, they have to be controlled in order to avoid misuse.

2.3 The Dangers of Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering means manipulating the RNA and/or DNA of genes in order to determine the basic inherited characteristics of life. In the novel, humans are produced and bred in bottles in a way which is disturbingly similar to the mass production of goods. The World State only produces the calculated required number of workers of a certain caste and by doing so prevents overpopulation and social instability. The DNA is manipulated in a certain way (i.e. by adding alcohol or chemical additives) to create either very intelligent (Alphas) or very stupid (Epsilons) people. Standardization is the key of mass production and the creation of human life is also standardized.

Human creation is detached from emotions and families (which are regarded as obscene) and the state has total control over how many citizens they want to live on the surface of the earth. They can reduce or add any particular number of humans if they want and that gives them total control over society. The possibilities of genetic engineering in Brave New World are beyond imagination and they cause curious questions. At one point in the novel, the savage asks the World Controller why they do not just produce Alpha Plus humans if they have the possibility, but Mond replies that a stable society needs an equilibrium of intelligent and stupid people, that in fact the perfect society is like an iceberg – with one-ninth on top being very smart people and the broad mass being only conditioned to do their stupid work and not ask questions. Mond also gives the example of the famous “Cyprus Experiment”. In this experiment, they tried to form a society consisting exclusively of Alpha Pluses on a distant island. The result was that nobody wanted to do the “dull” work and it ended in a civil war with many deaths. In conclusion, you can say that genetic engineering is one of the most powerful tools of the state to control society and maintain stability.

How it is today

Today, the cloning industry is advancing very fast. Women are already using artificial insemination and they can choose the characteristics they want their babies to have (depending on the sperm donor). Also chemical additives can already be used today and animals were already successfully cloned five years ago. There are not many topics more controversial and more debated than cloning today. Some people want to use cloning only for scientific research and argue that it would be an extremely useful tool to fight diseases and find new cures for genetic diseases. But most critics warn that if cloning would be allowed – even if only for experimental purposes – it would be only a short time until people would misuse it for cloning human beings just like in Brave New World. No other topic causes more ethical discussions and it is very difficult to predict where those discussions will lead. Since there is a huge industry connected to cloning, it means that the lobby for cloning will increase and more and more people will be convinced that cloning could really help them – or their disabled child who really needs a new kidney. However it is important to keep in mind that there are different areas of genetic engineering. While some people might find the idea of cloning human beings a terrible thing, stem cell research is supported by many people as a way to cure diseases and as an important field of medical research. But like with the other sciences mentioned above, it is extremely important to control everything that is happening in the cloning sector and to have fixed boundaries.

Most world leaders today, like American president George W. Bush, absolutely refuse to allow cloning, mainly because it interferes with their religious and ethical beliefs. Celebrities like Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve however, have supported stem cell research as a way to help themselves and others who suffer from certain diseases. In my opinion, it is very difficult to find a compromise between these different points of view and it is also difficult to mark boundaries in a field with so many grey areas.

2.4 The Misuse of Psychological Conditioning

In Brave New World every human is conditioned to fit society’s needs and to enjoy the work he or she will have to do until his or her death. One tool to condition people is biological conditioning. That means that certain chemicals are added to the bottles or that the bottles are spun in order to prepare the embryos for the levels of strength, intelligence and aptitude for a given job. Another powerful tool to condition people is psychological conditioning. Starting with toddlers, humans are conditioned to like or dislike certain things using behaviorism. And sleep-teaching, hypnopaedia, is used to form a child’s social consciousness and to place it into a social caste. They are conditioned to be satisfied with their lives, to respect people from higher and lower castes and to not question the World State.

In addition, children are taught that individual thinking is bad and that it only feels good to be in a community. The society brainwashes its citizens at each stage of their development, and one could say that people in the novel are not humans but mere automatons. People in the novel are also conditioned to be part of the consumer society and they can be conditioned to like certain things (which they will later consume) or to like certain places (in order to make them consume transportation).

How it is today

People today are definitely less conditioned than the automatons in Brave New World.

However there are certain similarities between the World State and our society today. People today are still born into certain classes and it is unlikely for them to change class levels. They are conditioned by their families and by society (especially in schools) to accept their class and their social status. So even if hypnopaedia (it is used today to keep kids from bed wetting or for people desperately trying to learn new things while they are sleeping) and behaviorism are not used on us by the government today, you can still speak of conditioning in our society.

However, psychological tricks and measures are used for example in war times or with criminals. Prisoners of war are set under constant stress or torture (“Pavlovian methods”) in order to make them eventually break down and confess what the oppressor wants them to. Other psychological tricks have been used in the past to influence people or to convince them of a certain ideology. Hitler, for example, always had his speeches and rallies at night time because he was aware that the human mind is much easier to convince and infiltrate when it is tired or under stress.


[1] The director on page 7 in the novel


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Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg – English Department
Aldous Huxley Brave World Major Themes Literary Utopias Dystopias Thema Schöne neue Welt




Title: Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" - Major Themes and what has become reality today